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Energy Transfers

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Energy Transfers

The term energy transfer refers to the changes in energy that occur in and between organisms within an ecosystem.

Organisms need a continuous input of energy. All life relies on energy and its transfer between different organisms. This helps to maintain their highly ordered structures and systems.

Each interdependent community of organisms interacts with other communities within its environment. These ecosystems are maintained by energy from the sun, and photosynthesizing organisms that have the ability to get energy from sunlight.

When it comes to how the energy is transferred, there are two types of organisms: autotrophs and heterotrophs . Some examples of autotrophs include plants, lichens or algae, as all three of these organisms can synthesize their own energy. Heterotrophs, on the other hand, cannot synthesize their own energy and rely on consuming it through eating other organisms. There are lots of examples of heterotrophs, including humans, dogs, or any other consumer in the food chain.

How do I use the Energy Transfer Formula?

Large amounts of energy are always lost between each level of the food chain, called trophic levels . This is because of the second law of thermodynamics. This states that whenever energy is converted from one form to another, there is an increase in entropy (disorder) in the system. In the context of the food chain, this means that a great deal of energy is lost in the form of heat when organisms are consumed.

The efficiency of energy transferred between two trophic levels is called the TLTE . This stands for 'trophic level transfer efficiency' and is determined by the following energy transfer formula:

As an example, if the energy of grass is stated at 5000 kcal, and the cow which eats the grass received 400 kcal during the energy transfer, the calculation would be as follows:

Another equation that you need to know is the net production efficiency (NPE). The n et production efficiency is used to calculate how efficiently organisms from a trophic level turn the energy they consume into biomass. The formula for NPE is:

Net production productivity, or NPP, refers to the amount of energy available to organisms on the next trophic level. Assimilation refers to the biomass of the current trophic level after some energy is lost due to incomplete ingestion of food, waste and respiration. You can read more about this in energy flow in ecosystems.

How do you show energy transfer on a diagram?

You can display different types of energy transfer in different ways. However, we usually use the diagram below when discussing energy transfer within an ecosystem.

This diagram shows the flow of energy of a food chain. As you will see, the energy decreases with each trophic level. The total energy accumulated by the primary producers was shown to be 41,620 kcal // yr .

Since all living things use energy for biological functions, such as respiration, we often pay attention to an ecosystem's net primary productivity (NPP).

In this diagram, 26,374 of the 41,620 kcal / yr was used for respiration or lost as heat, leaving 15,235 kcal / yr of energy for the primary consumers.

What are the different types of energy transfer?

Energy is acquired and transferred through an ecosystem in three different ways: photosynthesis, chemosynthesis, and consumption.

Photosynthesis

This is performed by photoautotrophs, such as plants, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria. Photosynthesis allows these organisms to act as the energy source for most of the world's ecosystems. Photosynthesis involves harnessing the sun's energy and converting it into chemical energy in the form of a molecule called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is then used to fuel the synthesis of a range of biomolecules, including glucose.

Chemosynthesis

This is performed by chemoautotrophs, which are typically bacteria that reside in ecosystems that are cut off from sunlight, such as within dark caves or hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. Chemoautotrophs use chemical compounds, such as hydrogen sulphide as a source of energy. This allows them to fuel the reactions that create complex biomolecules, including glucose. This creates energy for the rest of the ecosystem.

An example of energy transfer via chemosynthesis would be the process by which specialized bacteria in hydrothermal vents use hydrogen sulfide as a source of energy.

Consumption

Consumption is performed by heterotrophs, which function as consumers in the food chain. Heterotrophs get energy in the form of organic carbon. This is done through heterotrophs consuming autotrophs or other heterotrophs. They then break down this organic carbon, which is usually consumed in the form of complex compounds, into smaller, simpler compounds. This releases energy since they are oxidizing carbon and hydrogen and transforming them into carbon dioxide and water. This is achieved via a process called respiration. Studying respiration, you will learn more about various stages of respiration, such as glycolysis and the Krebs cycle.

Energy Transfers - Key Takeaways

  • The term energy transfer refers to the changes in energy that occur in and between organisms within an ecosystem. Autotrophs and heterotrophs are involved in energy transfer. Autotrophs are able to synthesize their own energy, whilst heterotrophs have to consume other organisms to gain energy.
  • There are three types of energy transfer: photosynthesis, chemosynthesis, and consumption. Photosynthesis and chemosynthesis are both performed by autotrophs. Consumption is performed by heterotrophs.
  • As you go further up the food chain, more energy is lost. A level of the food chain in an ecosystem is referred to as a trophic level.
  • The efficiency of energy transferred between two trophic levels is called the TLTE. This stands for 'trophic level transfer efficiency' and is determined by the following formula:
  • Net production efficiency is used to calculate how efficiently organisms from a trophic level turn the energy they consume into biomass. The formula for NPE is:

Frequently Asked Questions about Energy Transfers

Energy is acquired and transferred through an ecosystem in three different ways: photosynthesis, chemosynthesis, and consumption. 


Photosynthesis refers to the process by which photoautotrophs obtain energy from the sun and convert it into chemical energy. 


Chemosynthesis refers to the process by which chemoautotrophs obtain energy from specific chemical compounds and convert this into chemical energy. 


Consumption refers to the process by which heterotrophs consume autotrophs and other heterotrophs and obtain energy from the complex organic compounds contained in the organisms they consume. These compounds are broken down into simpler compounds, and the carbon and hydrogen atoms within these compounds are converted into carbon dioxide and water. 


The efficiency of energy transferred between two trophic levels is called the TLTE. This stands for 'trophic level transfer efficiency' and is determined by the following formula: 


TLTE = (production at present trophic level/production at previous trophic level) x100


Net production efficiency is used to calculate how efficiently organisms from a trophic level turn the energy they consume into biomass. The formula for NPE is:


NPE = (net consumer productivity/assimilation) x100


Net production productivity, or NPP, refers to the amount of energy available to organisms on the next trophic level. Assimilation refers to the biomass of the current trophic level after some energy is lost due to incomplete ingestion of food, waste and respiration.

Final Energy Transfers Quiz

Question

What is the definition of energy transfer?

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Answer

The term energy transfer refers to the changes in energy that occur in and between organisms within an ecosystem.

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What is a photoautotroph?


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An autotroph that can synthesise energy from the sun.

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Name an example of a photoautotroph.


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Any one of: Plants, algae, or photosynthetic bacteria.

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What is a chemoautotroph?


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An autotroph that can synthesise energy from chemicals.

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What are the main reasons that explain why energy is lost as it travels up trophic levels?


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It is lost due to respiration, waste, or incomplete ingestion of food.

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What are the three types of energy transfer?


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Photosynthesis, consumption, chemosynthesis

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What kind of organism synthesises energy via chemosynthesis?


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Chemoautotrophs

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What kind of organism synthesises energy via consumption?


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Heterotrophs

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What kind of organism synthesises energy via photosynthesis?


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Photoautotrophs

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Question

What is the main difference between nitrogen fixation and nitrification in the nitrogen cycle?

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Nitrogen fixation is the process of converting atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium ions. Nitrification is the process of converting ammonium ions into nitrite or nitrate ions.

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Can you name two ways in which water is introduced into water bodies in the hydrological cycle?

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Precipitation and ice-melt.

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Saprobiontic microorganisms will take in inorganic ions and produce organic matter. True or false?


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False.

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Only a few organisms can access nitrogen in its gaseous form. True or false?

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True.

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Fill in the blanks about the phosphorus cycle. The main source of phosphorus is _________, the process in which breaking down of rocks occurs. Phosphorus is __________ by organisms including plants and animals. Phosphorus is released back into the atmosphere by ____________. The cycle can then be repeated.

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The main source of phosphorus is weathering, the process in which breaking down of rocks occurs. Phosphorus is absorbed by organisms including plants and animals. Phosphorus is released back into the atmosphere by decomposition. The cycle can then be repeated.

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What is the main form of phosphorus in sedimentary rock deposits?

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Phosphate ions (PO4^3-).

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What would happen to plants if they did not form mycorrhizae associations with fungi?


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Plants would become more susceptible to droughts, and less nutrients would be available for the plants to take up.

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What are three ways in which agriculture affects the environment?


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  • Nutrients are removed from the soil during harvesting.
  • Agriculture can accelerate land erosion and increase nutrient run-off, leading to eutrophication in bodies of water.
  • Addition of fertilisers will increase the number of macronutrients and cause imbalance within the nutrient cycles.


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How can nitrates form during lightning?


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When lightning strikes, the energy separates gaseous nitrogen and releases free nitrogen atoms. These have an opportunity to bind with oxygen molecules and form nitrates.

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What are the two main processes of the oxygen cycle?


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Breathing and respiration, and photosynthesis. They are complementary to each other.

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During which cycle does evaporation occur?


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Water cycle.

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What is combustion in the carbon cycle?


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Burning of fossil fuels, which releases carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

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What is nitrogen used for when taken up by the primary producer?


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Production of proteins, amino acids, and nucleic acids.

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What are the two main groups of microorganisms (highest classification)?

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Prokaryotes and eukaryotes.

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What is Rhizobium and why is it important to legume plants?

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Rhizobium, a nitrogen-fixing bacteria, colonise the legume plant’s root cells, where they fix nitrogen. They will receive sugars in return.

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What is meant by the nitrogen cycle and why is it important?

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The nitrogen cycle is a biogeochemical cycle during which organic and inorganic nitrogen in different chemical forms will circle through the atmosphere, terrestrial and marine environments. Nitrogen cycle is important because nitrogen is an important building block in all living organisms. Nitrogen is used to make amino acids, proteins and DNA.

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What is the difference between nitrification and denitrification?

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Nitrification refers to the oxidation of nitrogen compounds. Denitrification is  the reduction of oxidised nitrogen compounds.

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What group of the living organisms can access nitrogen in its gaseous form (N2)?


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Nitrogen gas is only available to nitrogen-fixing microorganisms.

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Name a primary producer in the marine nitrogen cycle.


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Phytoplankton.

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Fill in the blanks about splitting of the nitrogen molecule during lightning. Nitrogen atoms in the atmospheric nitrogen molecule are held by ________ bonds. This means that the atoms share three pairs of _______. These bonds can be _____ by lightning which carries enough energy to split the atoms. When the nitrogen molecule splits, it bonds to the _______ atoms, forming nitrogen oxides (NOx).

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Nitrogen atoms in the atmospheric nitrogen molecule are held by covalent bonds. This means that the atoms share three pairs of electrons. These bonds can be broken by lightning which carries enough energy to split the atoms. When the nitrogen molecule splits, it bonds to the oxygen atoms, forming nitrogen oxides (NOx).

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What happens during the Haber-Bosch process?


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The Haber-Bosch process is an artificial way to produce ammonia. During the process, nitrogen gas is combined with hydrogen gas at a high temperature and a high-pressure environment.

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Mutualistic nitrogen-fixing bacteria will form a symbiotic relationship with the plant roots to exchange material. True or False?


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True.

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 Assimilation can be defined as the process where plants and animals use nitrate ions and ammonia formed by denitrification to make amino acids. True or False?


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False.

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Fill in the blanks about the denitrification step in the nitrogen cycle. Denitrification refers to the removal of _______ from the nitrate ions to ________ gas by anaerobic bacteria. Denitrification happens in _______ conditions. Environments such as wetlands are ________, they are important in reducing excess _______ levels.

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Denitrification refers to the removal of oxygen from the nitrate ions to nitrogen gas by anaerobic bacteria. Denitrification happens in anoxic/anaerobic conditions. Environments such as wetlands are waterlogged, they are important in reducing excess nitrogen levels.

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Oxygen is an electron acceptor in aerobic respiration. What is the electron acceptor in anaerobic respiration of specialised microbes? What is this process called?


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Microbes respiring anaerobically will use organic nitrate as electron acceptors. This is the DNRA (nitrate/nitrite ammonification) process.

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Nitrobacter bacteria facilitates the oxidation of the ammonium ions. True or False?


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False.

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Name three human impacts on the nitrogen cycle.


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Leaching, eutrophication and reduced species diversity.

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Why is nitrogen monitoring important?


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In agriculture, nutrient levels need to be monitored to maximise soil productivity. It is also important to monitor excess ammonia and nitrites in the soil, as these in excess amounts are toxic. Monitoring can also prevent nutrient runoff into the water bodies. This will prevent eutrophication.

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How can eating less meat contribute to a reduced nitrogen footprint?


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A large amount of crop feed is used to feed cattle. The crop feed will require large amounts of fertiliser to grow which could lead to soil imbalances and have other negative effects on the environment. 

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Fill in the blanks about the nitrogen cycle disruption. Disruption of the nitrogen cycle leads to the _______ within the ecosystem. Soil containing excess nitrogen will have a _______ pH compared to the soil that has a normal concentration of nitrogen. Too much nitrogen in the oceans will lead to _______. _______ is one of the main causes of nutrient ______ into the water bodies.


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Disruption of the nitrogen cycle leads to the imbalances within the ecosystem. Soil containing excess nitrogen will have a lower pH compared to the soil that has a normal concentration of nitrogen. Too much nitrogen in the oceans will lead to eutrophication. Leaching is one of the main causes of nutrient runoff into the water bodies.

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Anaerobic respiration requires oxygen. True or False?

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False.

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Where in the cell does anaerobic respiration occur?

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Cytoplasm.

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Does anaerobic respiration produce more or less ATP than aerobic respiration?


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Aerobic respiration produces more ATP.

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What molecule is glucose converted into by the end of glycolysis?


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Pyruvate.

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How many ATP molecules are produced overall during glycolysis (per glucose molecule)?


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2 molecules of ATP for every glucose molecule.

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What is the word we use to describe the splitting of ATP into ADP and Pi using water?


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Hydrolysis.

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What two 3-carbon molecules form after we add two phosphate groups to glucose?

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Triose phosphate.

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What is the end product in the fermentation of pyruvate in humans and animals?


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Lactic acid.

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What are the end products in pyruvate fermentation in bacteria/other microorganisms?


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Ethanol and carbon dioxide.

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What are the name and chemical symbol of the group removed from pyruvate during ethanol fermentation?


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Carboxyl group (-COOH).

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What happens to NAD+ after fermentation?


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NAD+ is used again in glycolysis.

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